Hon Lik, The Father Of Modern Vaping
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We went to Beijing China to interview Hon Lik the father of the modern vaporizer. While trying to create an alternative method of delivering a nicotine hit, he struck upon the concept of building an electronic device that could turn a liquid solution that contains nicotine into vapor by heating it. And so, the vaporizer was born.
Lik is now part of the set-up at Fontem Ventures, the parent company of blu, and in June we had the opportunity for a rare one-on-one interview with him. But we didn't set the questions - you guys did!
In the weeks before the interview, we opened the floor to vapers so you could ask the key questions you've always wanted to know the answers to.
Check out the transcript from the interview below:
What do you think about ban and restrictions?
I would encourage the people proposing these laws to look at the science. Look at the recent publications from Public Health England, the Royal College of Physicians and the Belgian government. These publications are science based and positive conclusions. From a legislative point of view, governments should promote easier access for smokers switch to EVPs. Rather than legislations that will ban the EVPs.
Has the industry evolved to your expectation? What do you expect to see to happen?
Currently the industry has evolved. But we still need innovation as we have not yet had a perfect EVP [Electronic Vaping Product]. I hope to develop an EVP in the future that will perfectly satisfy all consumers' needs.
For now, we are reliant on using resistance wire and wicking materials. Your original designs used ultrasonic elements to create vapour-- is there a chance that we can see this again? The solution was so simple and elegant versus what we have to use today.
In 2002, I started some basic atomizing experiments in my lab. In 2003, I made this ultrasonic atomization experimental device. This is a so-called testing platform in the initial design phase of e-cigarette production.
As you can see all the parts used in this device are collected from other industries, rather than parts specific for the EVP sector. At that time we had not yet made custom parts. We used this device to test and collect all kinds of working data of e-cigarette including the working conditions of the circuit, the ultrasonic power, and frequency. There was only an atomizer, the liquid, and the liquid storage component in this stick.
This device enabled me to test and collect the Circuitry data, but also experiment with flavourings and all types of available liquids for vaping. This was the most primitive lab version of the e-cigarette. Later on, along with the miniaturization of the parts, we were able to install all parts in one stick in 2004. And by then, the first generation of e-cig was born and launched on the market.
Of course, later on we abolished the Ultrasonic atomization for efficiency and better atomization. In the future, we will certainly be working on the technical optimization in the process of our development of e-cigs. So that will help us improve the efficiency, quality and consumer's satisfaction of EVPs.
Could you tell us more about this prototype? How hard to make it and how long did it take?
Since 2002 when I had the inspiration and the idea, I had already started working on a prototype. At that time, I had experienced a lot of hardships and there was not such a concept as e-cigs in existance. There was no any available data nor specialized suppliers. I was groping around in the darkness, dealing with numerous unknown factors. And I was very eager to get breakthrough.
Therefore, I had to start from scratch. There was no time for ordering many of the necessary items and I needed my testing results. I often manually welded these parts on the circuit board bit by bit. During the making of this test device, I had to use a saw to cut or even a file. I tried as much as possible to find the available parts as there were no specific parts at that time. The most challenging thing was the lack of reference materials. Then there was not even a recognisable key word for website searching.
So everything was done in our lab at the time. Every day I would test different ideas and different technical applications. Of course, I had experienced countless failures. But I did not take them as real failures. Because even if an idea or estimate was proven impossible through testing, it meant progress. That means we need to change our path and move in another direction.
After screening many possible solutions, I gradually selected a few design concepts and working principles. I passed through that difficult period and I gradually selected a few design concepts and working principles. Eventually, in 2004, our development delivered good results, and because we had the prototype and the first generation product, it was relatively easy to make improvements. It requires tremendous manpower, material resources, and financial investment, and we can get the results.
How did you feel when you finally got this prototype to work?
As a scientific and technical developer, I was very excited to see these results at this stage. It felt like I opened a magic box. And I had foreseen that this product will bring a significant impact to the smokers and the industry in the world. And it might change the way of lives for many people. That feeling of having that success, the achievement and the realization of these social responsibilities made me extremely joyful. All the hardship and effort was not in vain.
How do you see the industry in 20 years?
It should be possible to estimate the evolution of EVP for the coming 20 years. I see big improvements in the industry. Exactly like how the digital cameras replaced the film cameras, EVPs will be widely accepted. Possibly all the debate and controversial stories about EVPs will become the past. Because we will have collected huge scientific data and research, which will even better prove that EVPs are products that loved by the consumers and it is regarded as a very good product for civilized life.
Did you envision your invention taking off the way it did?
In 2004, after the first generation of EVPs launched on the market. I have foreseen that EVPs will deeply impact our society and have a profound influence on the industry. It will enter a large scale of the markets and it will change the way of living or the habits of more and more people. Because of this believe and the prediction, I can face those difficulties in those times and hold on to complete my work and invented the e-cig.
What do you think of countries that are trying to stop vaping?
I am not a legislator, but I believe that it makes little sense to combat vaping. There is an increasing scientific consensus showing e-cig are 95% safer than tobacco. So from legislator's perspective, they should protect and stimulate those interests of the smokers to switch using e-cig.
Do you have any plans for creating any e-cig accessories?
This is one of my objectives. In order to help consumers have a better e-cig experience, we are working on a range of design improvements.
Thinking about vaping as it is now - what improvements do you think could be made? Or is it just perfect as it is?
At the moment there is no best EVP, but we need to offer better EVPs on the market. Therefore, we're continuing our R&D work to suit all kind of consumers' needs and various tastes. On the one hand we try to satisfy the majority needs to switch to the e-cig, on the other we take into account the needs for personalized use.
What do you think of boxmods and the modding community worldwide?
EVPs are Humane products which suit for many interested group. But I think the majority of consumers are more tend to a simple and convenient solution.
When you came up with your idea 15 years ago did you have any idea or vision of the impact it might create in the tobacco industry?
15 years ago when I started EVP project, I fully took into account that EVPs will achieve great impact. Because this project will transform the habits of 1,1 billion people in the world. But I did not expect that there're some much controversy when EVPs got popularized in the world, including the debate on legislation.
When did you have your eureka moment when it came to the e-cig?
The eureka moment came from my intention to quit smoking. Because of my profession as a pharmacist, I was well aware of the harm smoking can do. But I was a heavy smoker then. I have attempted to stop smoking for several times without success. So I started looking for available cessation products or alternative products at the time. I tried many options including nicotine patch.
My personal reaction to the nicotine patch was not satisfactory because the nicotine release from the patch is a slow and continuous process. This is very different way of absorbing the nicotine comparing with smoking. When we smoke, a large amount of nicotine is inhaled in stages, while the patch needs a slow and long term process to do so. Based on my medicine and pharmaceutical knowledge, I personally concluded the patch didn’t have a good effect on me. From here I got the idea that I'd like to develop a device that I can use to smoke nicotine any time, such as aerosols. It imitates the cigarette, an alternative. This idea was alternative nicotine therapeutics at that time.
Where do you see vaping in the next 10 years?
I think over 10 years, EVPs will develop even further after many years of experience and research, along with the utilization of new materials and new processing. The battery in particular will develop. Currently the most commonly used is the Graphene battery. Once it’s miniaturized, and can be used in e-cig, it will help increase the efficiency of the overall device significantly. And then will come development in the vaping, control system and taste; all of these aspects will achieve rapid development in the coming 10 years.
What do you think of tobacco companies getting into vaping?
So many tobacco companies are actively promoting e-cigs on the market. This shows that these tobacco companies have a sense of social responsibility. Meanwhile they also noticed that along with the knowledge development about the harm of cigarette, the traditional cigarette consumption will slowly reduce. Since the tobacco companies have established rich resources such as manufacturing facilities, selling channels, and especially their science and technology resources, using these resources for developing EVPs will bring huge benefit to our society.
How much improvement do you think we will see not in the devices but in the e-liquids to improve the experience for new smokers?
I think there's huge room for improvement on the liquid, as it needs to truly mimic the taste of cigarettes and different regions have their own preference. For example, in Europe people are more fond of the pure tobacco taste. In China, the smokers are quite fond of the flue-cured flavour. And in South America, people might choose heavy taste cigarettes. So the development of the EVP liquid should fully consider the habits of tastes in different regions. It is difficult to use a universal standard on taste design. Just like cooking, the cuisines from all over the world are so diverse. The improvement of the taste will provide more and better choices for our consumers.
When is your favorite time to vape?
When I am busy with my work during the day, I don't feel like smoking, or using EVP. But when I watch the news or a film, I'd like to have a few mouthful of e-cig. That's my pleasure time. Or when I am chatting with friends, I will use a lot of e-cig. And when I am under pressure from work or for other reasons, the first thing comes into my mind is e-cig.
What do you like to do outside of e-cigarettes?
I like reading grotesque short stories, then I can rest my mind. And I like surfing the internet searching for news about e-cigs, consumers’ comments about them, and the development of legislation in all countries. I collect online information regarding new materials, processing, and scientific development in order to figure out which type of new scientific development will be suitable for our products.
Where do you see blu technology in 5 years?
I see blu technology continuing to lead the market and the brand making good progress on new product development. Blu is so far the best product available I have seen on the market.
What has Fontem/blu allowed you to do you wouldn't have been able to do on your own?
I'm quite happy working with Fontem. Mainly because of their product quality is the best. Their scientific and technology team and innovation team are the best of its class. I believe co-operating with this qualitative team will enable me develop a series of even better products so that we can satisfy the expectations of our consumers.
What do you do now on a day to day basis?
I am working with the Fontem team on designing and developing a new type of e-cig that will feature new styling and better taste so that we can launch various types of new products and satisfy the needs of consumers. Meanwhile I'm also advocate for vaping as alternative to smoking.
How far do you feel we are from creating the perfect e-cig?
There's no perfect solution in the world, but there are better ones. I believe we are coming closer to this goal every day.
What is the most exciting aspect of your work now?
First, it has to be meeting great people like yourself and being able to explain to the consumers about the working principle, features and solutions of e-cig. I hope that there will be more smokers switching to use e-cig worldwide. Second, it’s going back to the lab to create even better products and improve the quality.
The final statement
First of all, I'd like to express my gratitude for the high appraisal of my invention. I'd love to hear your feedback on using the EVPs. This will help me continue my development and offer you satisfactory products.
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